Vital time was lost in the battle to save a victim of the Westminster terror attack who was left face down in the river for five minutes because a passing boat captain wrongly thought she was already dead, an inquest has heard.
Andreea Cristea, 31, had plunged into the Thames after being hit by Khalid Masood’s car as she walked on Westminster Bridge with her boyfriend, Andrei Burnaz.
Mr Burnaz was desperately searching for his partner as Michael Brown shouted and gestured to alert a passing tourist boat to her floating face down in the water.
Despite an emergency distress signal, along with shouts from Mr Brown and passengers on the City Cruises tourist clipper, Skipper Danny Cooper initially thought Ms Cristea’s body was “garbage”.
CCTV footage captured Captain Gordon Markley asking if it was a “wind-up” before heading outside with a boat hook.
Mr Cooper said he and his colleague assumed the Romanian tourist had been in the water for hours or days and believed it was “impossible” to fish her out using the hook.
“We presumed it was a body that had been in the water for a long time. It wouldn’t have been nice for anyone involved. There were children sitting downstairs.”
Gareth Patterson QC, representing Ms Cristea’s family, said she had been face down in the river for two minutes when she was first secured, but remained immersed for five minutes before she was brought out.
The inquest heard at one point that Mr Markley even released her to fish out a certificate he spotted floating in the river.
Mr Patterson asked Mr Cooper: “My suggestion is, if you wanted to get her out, Mr Gordon Markley and another man could have brought her out of the water with that 15ft pole.
“My suggestion is the hook is sufficient to grab the person and pull them up with the assistance of another person.
“This was a young woman of 5ft 5in, of slim build, weighing only 11 stone. Are you really suggesting she could not have been lifted by two men?”
The witness said: “Definitely not”
Mr Patterson continued: “Mr Cooper, there was nothing stopping her being lifted by a matter of inches to see if she was alive, to lift her face out of the water?”
“I don’t know,” Mr Cooper replied.
Mr Cooper told the inquest he had past experience of fishing unconscious people out of the water, but had no training on how to do it on the high-sided clipper.
Asked if he thought it would have been possible to get Ms Cristea out of the water more quickly or more safely, Mr Cooper said: “In the conditions or circumstances, no.”
Mr Patterson added: “With hindsight, Mr Cooper, do you agree the more appropriate course of action would be immediately to get Gordon to try and get that person out of the water as a matter of emergency?”
“Of course, it was physically impossible,” said Mr Cooper. The barrister suggested: “But you never did.”
“No sir,” Mr Cooper replied.
The inquest heard London Fire Brigade’s Fire Flash boat arrived on the scene and used a specialist piece of equipment to bring Ms Cristea on board. She died in hospital on April 6 last year.
Giving evidence, Mr Markley denied making a “death gesture” with his hand to the fire boat as he was handing over Ms Cristea.
He insisted there were “no signs of life” and he presumed she was dead. But as he got closer, he began to harbour doubts on seeing a “vast amount of blood swirling around the body”, he said.
Jonathan Hough, QC, for the coroner, asked: “Was there any way you could have got the body onto the boat safely?”
The captain said he thought lifting her one-and-a-half metres up the side of the boat risked causing “more damage”.
He said he flipped a piece of paper out of the water, thinking it had come out of Ms Cristea’s backpack.
Mr Markley told the court he only learned later that Ms Cristea was alive when she was taken to hospital.
The first aid trained licensed skipper said: “We don’t bring dead bodies aboard the boat.”
Mr Patterson suggested Ms Cristea “immediately started breathing” when she was pulled from the water.
He said: “Perhaps with hindsight you might have approached things differently and at the very least tried to raise her face to see whether she might start breathing?”
Mr Markley replied: “With hindsight yes. I would have loved to have gone down into the water and done that. We did what we thought was appropriate.”
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